Examine the difference between a charger chip and a microcontroller.
When first introduced in the 1980s, charger chips simplified the design of NiCd and MiMH chargers, as these chemistries were difficult to charge. Li-ion is simpler and most modern chips include the protection circuits that needed to safe charge Li-ion. These are current and voltage regulation, FET switches and charge status indicators. A time-tout-timer to end charge if expected symptoms are absent is added to provide extra safety. Advanced chips also feature pre-charge conditioning (boost) for inactive batteries and a sleep mode that reduces the power when the job is done. For batteries being loaded while on charge, some chips automatically restart charge when the battery voltage falls below a preset voltage threshold.
Although charger chips are easy and economical to use, they have limitations. Most offer a fixed charge algorithm that does not permit fine-tuning for specialty uses. Chips are made for a given battery and many cannot accommodate different chemistries selectable by a code or do ultra-fast charging with safeguards that include scaling the charge current according to battery condition and temperature. Temperature control is mostly through an on/off switch.
Microcontrollers offer an alternative to charger chips. Although the design cost is higher because of programming, manufacturing costs are compatible to charger chips. It should be noted that the charge chip or microcontroller form only a small part of the charger circuit; the bulk of the cost lies in the peripheral components, which include solid-state switches, displays signals and the power supply. The cost of these parts is in direct relationship to current handling.
Last updated 3/28/2015
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